Jones a natural leader for N'western
Leaders ascend to their positions in different ways. Some are thrust into it. Others try to force themselves into a position of authority.
But the best leaders are those who just let it happen. Those who see a void and fill it.
That's how Sara Jones became the the leader for the Northwestern girls basketball team.
"Ever since I've been playing sports I've looked around and I see everyone has potential," said Jones. "There needs to be someone as a coach and as a peer to step up and get as much as possible out of everyone. I just filled that role. I don't know if it was by choice."
On the court, Jones led in many ways.
She led by example in scoring 14.6 points per game this season while pulling down 7.7 rebounds and making 3.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game this season.
She finished her career as the program's all-time leading scorer, crossing the 1,000-point plateau in midseason and finishing with 1,246.
She earned the Colonial League Most Valuable Player and Via Lehigh Valley Girls Player of the Year awards. And she is this year's TIMES NEWS Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
"It's nice to have individual awards come at the end of the season when I'm not focused on being a team player and the team aspect of the sport," Jones said.
The team has always been Jones' first priority. She became a leader because she saw the need for one after her team struggled during her freshman season.
"When I got to high school and saw us suffer and we only got three wins my freshman year, that really got to me" said Jones, who led the team in scoring all four years of high school. "I just really wanted to turn around the program. At that point it became a choice. I really did want to become a leader."
Her first taste of basketball leadership came on Jen Horner's middle school team. At the time she still listed soccer as her favorite sport, but that changed.
"In seventh grade I got to be point guard," she said. "It was the first year I got to lead a team. Basketball is the ultimate team sport because you rely on all five members. I like how tight-knit basketball is."
Jones helped her team improve each season, culminating in this year's 20-0 start to the season and the team's 22-3 overall record.
Her leadership off the court proved vitally important to the program's turnaround. Her tireless work ethic influenced a young Northwestern team the past two seasons.
"More girls were staying after practice to get extra shots in," said Northwestern head coach Chris Deutsch. "Sara was a big influence on that. She didn't force anyone, but girls saw the time she was putting in.
"When older girls lead by example, younger girls know what they have to do to get to that level."
Deutsch's greatest memory is last summer's Sportsfest Tournament, when Jones contacted all of her teammates to show up early on the final day of the tournament for extra shooting.
"She called me and said 'Coach, make sure you're there an hour early with basketballs,'" Deutsch said. "That's the thing we'll miss the most is her leadership."
The Tigers went on to win that Sportsfest title, setting the stage for this season's success.
While Jones had the ability to take over games, she preferred to keep teammates involved and let the game come to her. She preferred to play a team game.
But if her team needed her to score, she did just that.
When the Tigers faced an 18-point third-quarter deficit against Southern Lehigh this season, Jones scored 21 second-half points and 30 in the game to lead her team to the comeback win. Deutsch considers it his fondest on-court memory of the player he's repeatedly called the best leader he's ever coached.
In the next phase of her life Jones will train with the best leaders in the world. She has been accepted to the Naval Academy and plans to walk on to the Lady Black Knight basketball team.
She started working with Deutsch two days after the season ended. They spend four days a week honing on shooting and ball handling skills that could help her make the team in Annapolis.
Her high school career ended abruptly, when the Tigers fell to North Schuylkill in the district quarterfinals. That loss came just a couple weeks after Northwestern fell to Southern Lehigh in the league title game.
"I'm finally over it, but it took some time," said Jones. "I'm really not going to remember that when I'm older. I'm going to remember the memories, the student section, the locker room before the games, and coach Deutsch running off the court after games."